The 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning were the best Lightning team we’ve ever seen. Yes, they didn’t pull off the ultimate goal. But in terms of their regular season production, and dominance, this was the best.
What if we could put together the best Lightning roster of all time though? Let’s go back through the history of the Lightning and try. Why not? It’s the offseason, let’s have just a little bit of fun while we wait for the NHL Entry Draft in a few more weeks.
Rules: We’ll put together a standard playing roster of 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders. For each player, only their best season will count. Each player can only be used once. As best as possible, we’ll make the roster and lines workable. We won’t do too much of switching players around positions to make them work. That means we’ll need right wingers and left wingers to go on either side of centers. We’ll also need a balance of left and right handed defensemen. Let’s get to it!
First Line, The Best Ever Line
Left Wing: 2018-19 Nikita Kucherov, 82 games played, 41 goals, 87 assists, 128 points
Center: 2011-12 Steven Stamkos, 82 games played, 60 goals, 37 assists, 97 points
Right Wing: 2006-07 Martin St. Louis, 82 games played, 43 goals, 59 assists, 102 points
Ok, I already cheated a little bit by moving Kucherov to the left wing. But finding wingers after Kucherov and St. Louis is a bit drop off. And I couldn’t resist the temptation of putting the two greatest wingers the Lightning have ever had next to the greatest center. We have Kucherov’s Art Ross season and one of Stamkos’ two Rocket Richard seasons. St. Louis actually scored more in this season than in 2003-04 when he won the Art Ross and Hart Trophy while scoring 94 points. His 102 points finished fifth in the NHL.
Second Line, The Classics Line
Left Wing: 2005-06 Vinny Prospal, 81 games played, 25 goals, 55 assists, 80 points
Center: 2006-07 Vincent Lecavalier, 82 games played, 52 goals, 56 assists, 108 points
Right Wing: 1996-97 Dino Ciccarelli, 77 games played, 35 goals, 25 assists, 60 points
Vinny Prospal was one of the wingers that seemed to consistently find success alongside Vincent Lecavalier and we’ve reunited them here. The drop off at right wing after Kucherov and St. Louis is pretty sharp and gets us down to future Hall of Famer Ciccarelli nearing the end of his career at 36 years old. That’s also a lot of goal scoring between Ciccarelli and Lecavalier with some of Prospal’s playmaking sprinkled in.
Third Line, The Playmakers Line
Left Wing: 2003-04 Cory Stillman, 81 games played, 25 goals, 55 assists, 80 points
Center: 2005-06 Brad Richards, 82 games played, 24 goals, 68 assists, 91 points
Right Wing: 1992-93 John Tucker, 78 games played, 17 goals, 39 assists, 56 points
SHOOT! SHOOT! You’ll probably be yelling that a lot at this line. They’re all playmakers. Some of the best playmakers the Lightning have had outside of Kucherov and St. Louis. Honorable mention to Teddy Purcell who didn’t quite make the list here.
Fourth Line, The New Kids
Left Wing: 2014-15 Ondrej Palat, 75 games played, 16 goals, 47 assists, 63 points
Center: 2018-19 Brayden Point, 79 games played, 41 goals, 51 assists, 92 points
Right Wing: 2014-15 Ryan Callahan, 24 goals, 30 assists, 54 points
All three of these players are newer additions to the Lightning. 2014-15 was a pretty magical year and were the best seasons for both Palat and Callahan in Lightning jerseys. When Callahan was at his best in that first full year with the Lightning, he was an effective net crasher. That version of Callahan would have fit in nicely with Point and Palat.
First Pairing, The Offensive Pair
Left Defense: 2016-17 Victor Hedman, 79 games played, 15 goals, 56 assists, 72 points
Right Defense: 2006-07 Dan Boyle, 82 games played, 20 goals, 43 assists, 63 points
Imagine these two together at the top of their games. Absolutely ridiculous offensive fire power from the blue line. They could both skate, move the puck, pass, and shoot. This would be quite the fight over who got to play on the first power play unit.
Second Pairing, The I Don’t Have A Name For Them Pair
Left Defense: 1995-96 Roman Hamrlik, 82 games played, 16 goals, 49 assists, 65 points
Right Defense: 2009-10 Kurtis Foster, 71 games played, 8 goals, 34 assists, 42 points
Hamrlik was the first ever draft pick by the Lightning. He was a bright spot in those early years providing plenty of offense from the blue line. He held the Lightning’s single season record for assists and points until Hedman broke both of those records in 2016-17. Kurtis Foster was a one and done player for the Lightning and had his best ever season, at least in part because he was manning the point on the first power play feeding the puck to Stamkos.
Third Pairing, The Responsible Pair
Left Defense: 2018-19 Ryan McDonagh, 82 games played, 9 goals, 37 assists, 46 points
Right Defense: 2014-15 Anton Stralman, 82 games played, 9 goals, 30 assists, 39 points
Perhaps two of the best defensemen the Lightning have ever had on the defensive end of the scale makes them The Responsible Pair. Stralman was an analytics darling when he was a free agent and I still feel he’s been underrated during his time with the Lightning. His 2014-15 season’s point totals mostly resulted from his time on the power play, but he did set a career high in even strength assists as well as career highs in goals, assists, and points.
Starter: 1995-96 Daren Puppa, 57 games played, 29-16-9, .918 SV%, 2.46 GAA, 5 shutouts, 32.03 GSAA
Back-Up: 2018-19 Andrei Vasilevskiy, 53 games played, 39-10-4, .925 SV%, 2.40 GAA, 6 shutouts, 26.40 GSAA
Alright. Here’s the controversial one! There were three obvious candidates in Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop, and Nikolai Khabibulin. But then another contender came forth. When you’re talking about vastly different eras, just comparing save percentage and GAA, the traditional measures of goaltenders, makes it difficult to draw direct comparisons.
So I went to goals saved above average which is a measure of how many goals the player saved over the average NHL goaltender. Surprisingly, Puppa has the best ever GSAA season in Lightning history. In 1995-96, he finished third in the Vezina voting, the second time he had been a finalist. He lost out to Jim Carey and Chris Osgood who had more wins, and better GAA, but worse save percentages. He actually beat out a young Martin Brodeur who finished 4th in the voting, but had 25.49 GSAA that season.
It might be debatable if Puppa was better than the other three with that season, but I felt it was a good nod to an old classic goaltender of the Lightning.